Home is nowhere, for now

Posted by jdg | Monday, August 21, 2006 |

Juniper inherited my sense of direction, not her mother's lack of one. For the last month or so, when we're in the car and get within a few blocks of our apartment, from her backwards view of the neighborhood (her tiny body, until now, prevented her from sitting facing forward) and the roofs of the neighboring houses told her she was "home." She said that word clear as anything, and Wood and I always looked at each other, astonished that she knew.

Last night, at around nine, I walked through the bare-walled, emptied apartment we were leaving and I was struck with the memory of seeing it for the first time as an unmarried kid four years ago, and I thought about how much happened in those walls since. "It's just a place," said Wood, when I got in the car, sniffling, after turning the key in the lock for the last time. Juniper was silent in the back, perched facing forward for the first time and sitting between her favorite stuffed animals who were themselves sitting on a mountain of snacks and toys. She had been whining, but somehow the experience of her father crying shocked her enough to stop that. "It's just a place," Wood repeated, "what really matters is here in this car."

I always get this way. When I drove out to California by myself years ago, I had my share of fear and sadness, and crying like a whiny-ass titty baby. I first left Wood living in a dorm in Ann Arbor, and then left my parents' house in Kalamazoo. I hadn't had a real home since Wood and I moved out of the house we'd shared during law school, and for six months before I moved, I drifted from sublet to sublet, from one friend's couch to another for three months. When I crossed into Nevada on my cross-country drive I saw a hand-painted sign twisted into a barbed-wire fence just beyond Wendover that said two words: Go Home. I'm sure its author intended it to be some kind of statement against Mormon or Mexican encroachment but I took it personally. I took it as a sign from god. Go home, it said. The trouble was I didn't have any home to go to.

The next day I walked through a bare apartment that smelled vaguely of cats, the apartment where my unimagined daughter would take her first steps, where she would say her first word, and where over the course of nineteen months would run towards my stooped form to give me ten thousand hugs. I had a feeling about that apartment that first day I saw it. I rented it on the spot. I needed, more than anything, a home.

Leaving San Francisco is another matter. We took Bush Street downtown, to see the tall buildings and lights one last time, and when we reached Bush and Kearny I looked to the left and saw some guy taking a shit and wiping his ass with a rag right under a light in an alley. "God I'm going to miss this fucking town," I said to Wood. Then we got on I-80, and I cried all the way across the Bay Bridge.

We're driving down 80 today, making some reader recommended stops in Nevada City and in the Reno/Tahoe area. I will update with more details of our route and things we saw or did that readers recommended. I'd like to get to Wendover tonight, and to Salt Lake City tomorrow.